AUTOMATION AT EXPORT COLLECTORATE

Efforts are aimed at creating paperless office environment

By SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Feb-25 - Mar- 10, 2002

The Collectorate of Customs (Exports), Karachi, was established on November 2, 1990. It is the largest exporting station of the country and handles about 70 per cent of the total export volume. The magnitude of work has been increasing with the passage of time. To facilitate the exporters, this Collectorate has taken certain initiatives towards process re-engineering and modernization of the existing computer hardware and software.

Currently exports examination is being conducted at East and West Wharves of Karachi port, Port Qasim, Air Freight Unit (AFU) and Alhamd International Container Terminal. Whereas processing of export documents is being done at: West Wharf of Karachi port, Port Qasim and AFU. Exports Collectorate Karachi also processes the duty drawback claims filed by the exporters.

The quantum of work at Export Collectorate can be gauged from number of shipping bills filed in a year. While 443406 bills were filed in year 1999, the number increased to 472405 in year 2000. However, the number declined in year 2001 significantly to 312474. The reason attributed to decline is economic slow down in the country. However, it is necessary to note that 128989 bills were filed during July-December period, considered to be a difficult period after September, 11 attacks and subsequent events taking place in the region.

The processing of bill of export is a cumbersome and lengthy process. The Collectorate has addressed this issue by establishing Export Facilitation Centres (EFCs) at four exporting stations. There are two stations at Karachi port (East Wharf and West Wharf) and one each at Port Qasim and Air Freight Unit at Quaid-e-Azam International airport. The documents of export consignments are processed at these stations after which the goods are examined and finally loaded on to ships or aircrafts, as the case may be. Under the EFCs concept almost 90 to 95 per cent of the shipping bills are to be processed electronically.

This has eliminated almost all the eight (8) steps performed manually in the past. These were: 1) Registration, 2) Machine numbering, 3) Detachment of E-Forms and other copies, 4) Cash numbering, 5) Appraisement, 6) Counter signature of PA, 7) Bank payment and 8) Out of Charge etc. Moreover, a profile based selection criteria is to be implemented for electronic identification of selected cases for examination. Finally, the bill of export filed and processed under EFC will, in future, be used for Electronic Duty Drawback generation. Hence eliminating the need to file a separate Rebate Claim by the exporter. The exporter will only be required to submit the Bank Credit Advice. Even this information can also be obtained from the banks electronically for further facilitation of exporters and relieving them from the hassle of getting the rebate claim.

The EFC at Air Freight Unit and Port Qasim are fully functional and have considerably reduced the processing time of bill of export. The Customs Service Centre at Karachi port is being developed for the processing of shipping bills. Under the Direct Trader Input System (DTI) the exporters enjoy the facility to get the shipping bill processed online. At present this system is fully operational at EFC, Air Freight Unit. In the first phase some reputed courier companies have been provided DTI facility for filing of online bill of export. The Collectorate intends to further extend this facility to exporters registered under 'Gold Category Scheme' and later on to all exporters.

All the examination sections located at the exporting stations are not automated except AFU. The manual process has certain limitations and causes delays in the shipment of export shipments. The Collectorate is fully aware of the problem and has chalked out a plan to automate the examination sections of all the exporting stations.

At present processing and sanctioning of duty drawback claims is not fully automated. A considerable amount of human and material resources of the Collectorate have been deployed for this. With the full-fledged working of EFCs at exporting stations, there will be no need for filing a separate duty drawback claim. These claims will be generated electronically. However, the proposal of automated remittance of the duty drawback amounts to bank account of exporter requires consent from State Bank of Pakistan and National Bank of Pakistan.

The consultants of TEPI project are working on modernization of Export Collectorate. Upgradation of existing hardware and software and training of staff is underway to implement the proposed MIS system. TEPI would assist the Export Collectorate in developing profile of exporters. It would enhance the control mechanism without the involvement of physical controls. Statistics Process Control would be implemented using computers for identifying high risk export consignments and duty drawback claims for thorough scrutiny.

It is observed that in most of the cases the information required for making prompt decision is not available and the credibility of available information is also doubtful. The Collectorate with the assistance of TEPI is setting up a Management Information System (MIS) to overcome this problem. The proposed MIS would ultimately create an atmosphere of paperless office. Furthermore, the MIS would not only keep track of the status of certain documents but would also help in monitoring efficiency of staff. This system would also help in identifying problems related to flow of information. Once a problem area has been identified it could be dealt with properly and suitably to resolve the problem.

With the process of re-engineering, many redundant procedure and process involving shipping bills and payment of duty drawback have been done away with. Furthermore, a new format of shipping bill has been introduced at AFU and the same will be introduced at other exporting stations as well. The Collectorate has conducted a series of seminars in collaboration with different associations of exporters to inform them about the rules and procedures of Customs authorities. A handbook on Export Processing and Examination has been compiled.

The Collectorate has contemplated electronic link with port authorities, banks, State Bank of Pakistan, shipping lines and exporters. This system would ultimately lead to the creation of paperless office environment. All the transactions would be executed through transfer of data electronically.

Keeping in view the post September 11, 2001 scenario, the Collectorate took extra measures to facilitate exporters. In this regard all the rebate groups were given specific directions to clear all outstanding duty drawback claims by December 31, 2001. The officers and staff of the Collectorate worked round the clock, even during Ramadan and Eid holidays to process and approve the claims.

In addition round the clock examination facility was made available to exporters at all the exporting stations. During the last days of December 2001, the facility for processing of export documents was extended round the clock. These measures resulted in increase of exports.

A number of schemes have been launched for exporters to obtain duty free raw materials. In this regard a scheme called Duty and Tax Remission for Exports was introduced on June 18, 2001. Under this scheme an exporter furnishes an application to the Collector of Customs alongwith list of goods he intends to export and inputs to be imported or purchased locally for use in the manufacturing. For manufacturer-cum-exporter the delivery of inputs is allowed without payment of any duties and taxes against indemnity bond or post dated cheques. Commercial exporter has to produce irrevocable bank guarantee. An exporter may get the goods manufactured from anywhere in Pakistan. Any purchases of inputs from domestic suppliers by an exporter under these rules are being zero rated, exempted from payment of sales tax and excise duty.

In order to resolve the problems faced by exporters and to facilitate exporters, the Collectorate has constituted an Export Facilitation Committee which comprises of representatives from various trade bodies as well as officers from the Collectorate.

The Collectorate has initiated another step to facilitate the exporters by establishing an EFC at M. I. Yard, West Wharf, Karachi. Two such centres at AFU and Port Qasim, Karachi are already functioning. This Centre has started working on February 26, 2002. The objective to establish this Centre is to ensure processing of export documents under one roof. Under this, exporters/clearing agents will submit the documents at the Receipt Counter which will affix machine number and detach necessary documents and hand over the documents to the clearing agent/exporter for necessary wharfage payments and related activities. The documents will again be presented at the EFC counter. The EFC staff will enter all the related documents to the bill of export into the computer. Duties and taxes will be computed after necessary verification and validation of data. The clearing agent/exporter will make the necessary payments at bank. The processing status of various bill of export will be available to the clearing agents/exporters on the Status Display Monitors. In addition, this Centre will also provide the facilities of e-mail, fax, telephone, photocopier and typing to traders. The automation of processing of export bills will bring transparency in the system and will also save time of exporters as well as Customs staff. On top of everything, it will help in making fiscal policy forthe country.

The Collectorate has also launched its website recently. It contains up to date information about export policy/procedures and notifications which will facilitate the exporters in filing and processing of their shipping bills and rebate claims. The Exports General Manifest (EGM) will also be available on the website. This will enable the exporters to have the latest information about their export consignments. The next phase includes hyperlinks with the websites of leading exporters and other organizations related to foreign trade.